Speeding 68 miles an hour and plunging 162 feet at an 81-degree angle on its opening drop, Outlaw Run has drawn tourists from across the world to the Silver Dollar City amusement park in Branson, Mo., since its mid-March opening—and those entering the theme park in December will be greeted by another breathtaking sight: a 5-story-tall Christmas tree adorned with 400,000 lights.
As part of the park’s annual tradition, each evening’s lighting of the tree is accompanied by entertainment director Brad Schroeder reading James Allen Francis’ classic, Christ-centered poem “One Solitary Life.” Attendants take in the twinkling of 5 million lights as they stroll the park, listening to tunes like “Joy to the World” or the “Hallelujah” chorus. They’re invited to watch the story of Christ’s birth unfold through Living Nativity, an original play with an 11-member cast. And they won’t want to miss the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Light Parade, the final float of which features the Christ child under a banner that reads “The Greatest Gift of All.”
It’s all part of “An Old Time Christmas” at the park, where each stage production includes a carol paying tribute to Christ’s birth.
“When it comes to Christmas, we aren’t afraid to say we’re a Christmas festival,” says Brad Thomas, president and general manager of the park. “We know that everyone who works here and everyone who visits here is not necessarily a Christian. We don’t want to be [too] forceful ... but we do believe that we have values from which we shouldn’t run.”
It’s no surprise that Silver Dollar City, owned and headed by Pentecostal businessmen Jack and Peter Herschend, is so bold in its presentation of the reason for the season. Yet amid the sweeping cultural onslaught to strip Christmas of any “religious messaging” that might offend, few venues are as forward with their public celebrations. Secularism continues to neuter public Christmas expression, leaving such companies standing in stark contrast to a growing opposition.
Despite this pop-culture tsunami, however, a quick look around shows the first six letters of this national holiday—Christ—still occupy a central place in millions of Americans’ hearts. And this December, you’ll find depictions of Jesus still appearing—intentionally and boldly—in numerous well-known venues throughout the country.
In Support of Christmas The annual candlelight processional at Walt Disney World’s Epcot was conceived by Disney creative consultant Derric Johnson to tell the story of Christ with the accompaniment of a 50-piece orchestra and mass choir. Holiday evenings at the Orlando theme park include a reading of the biblical account of the virgin birth with a celebrity narrator, who in the past has included Jim Caviezel, Brian Dennehy, Susan Lucci and Marlee Matlin (in sign language).
Many Christmas attractions at the neighboring SeaWorld reflect holiday glitz, but Christian visitors have been pleasantly surprised by O Wondrous Night, a production based on the Christmas story that features more than 30 carols and includes live animals, life-size puppets and special effects.
The annual Christmas show at New York City’s famed Radio City Music Hall includes a manger scene with live camels, sheep and donkeys, though the famous Rockettes and Santa Claus still headline the event. This year, audiences in Atlanta, West Palm Beach, Tampa and Nashville can enjoy the touring production.
At Tennessee’s Dollywood amusement park, 300,000 are expected to experience the park’s celebrated “Smoky Mountain Christmas.” Its O Holy Night production, performances by southern gospel’s Kingdom Heirs and the nightly “Carol of the Trees,” which synchronizes thousands of lights to holiday music, are among the Christ-centered elements at the park, which recently announced a $300 million expansion.
“We embrace the Christian message of Christmas,” says entertainment director Paul Couch. “That’s who we are and what our guests have come to expect. We are uncompromisingly clear that the holiday is about [Christ].”
And five years ago, the Creation Museum near Cincinnati inaugurated “Christmas Town,” a walk-through re-creation of a first-century village where actors portray Joseph and Mary holding the newborn Babe and an archeologist explains the circumstances surrounding His birth. The weekend productions include several other dramas, including a depiction of John the Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, describing two of history’s most famous births. Crowds have more than doubled since Christmas Town’s inception, often matching summer tourist season numbers.
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